Building the foundations for sustainable development: a case for global investment in the capabilities of adolescents

Peter Sheehan, Kim Sweeny, Bruce Rasmussen, Annababette Wils, Howard S Friedman, Jacqueline Mahon, George C Patton, Susan M Sawyer, Eric Howard, John Symons, Karin Stenberg, Satvika Chalasani, Neelam Maharaj, Nicola Reavley, Hui Shi, Masha Fridman, Alison Welsh, Emeka Nsofor, Laura Laski The Lancet, 2017; Read full paper online

Investment in the capabilities of the world's 1ยท2 billion adolescents is vital to the UN's Sustainable Development Agenda. This paper examines investments in countries of low income, lower-middle income, and upper-middle income covering the majority of these adolescents globally to derive estimates of investment returns given existing knowledge.

The costs and effects of the interventions were estimated by adapting existing models and by extending methods to create new modelling tools. Benefits were valued in terms of increased gross domestic product and averted social costs. The initial analysis showed high returns for the modelled interventions, with substantial variation between countries and with returns generally higher in low-income countries than in countries of lower-middle and upper-middle income.

The findings show that investments in health and education will not only transform the lives of adolescents in resource-poor settings, but will also generate high economic and social returns. These returns were robust to substantial variation in assumptions. Although the knowledge base on the impacts of interventions is limited in many areas, and a major research effort is needed to build a more complete investment framework, these analyses suggest that comprehensive investments in adolescent health and wellbeing should be given high priority in national and international policy.

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